“You dodged a bullet with this one,” I said to a fellow reviewer after my first game of My City: Roll & Build (R&B). In light of my known fondness for designer Reiner Knizia, and given my colleague’s indifference to the original My City game, my comrade in arms generously forfeited his claim on Meeple Mountain’s review copy. While roll & writes have never been my favorite genre, I find My City such a delightful experience that I’ve done the full campaign twice.
I left my first play of R&B, covering the first of twelve episodes, fully unimpressed. If it weren’t a review copy, I probably wouldn’t have gone back. That’s when I made the bullet comment. Professionalism obligated me to return, though, so I sat down the next morning to play the second and third episodes. It was then that I realized I owe R&B an apology.
This is, in fact…
A Pretty Good Game
Roll the dice. Two of them combine to dictate the shape you’re drawing. The third dictates whether the building is Residential, Industrial, or Public. Your first building has to be drawn somewhere along the river. Every subsequent building has to be adjacent to what has come before.
You roll (and write) until you drop out. At the end of each episode, you score points based on specified criteria, laid out beautifully and comprehensively on the lower half of each player sheet. It’s hard to get into specifics, because they change from episode to episode, and, much like the original My City, the reveal is part of the fun. The first few episodes score for things like groups of alike buildings and number of uncovered trees.
The first episode is boring. I stand by that. I completely understand why there was no fire in my belly after my first play, and I think the game would have been better off starting with the second episode and adding a replacement somewhere in the middle. The second episode introduces the largest group scoring, and immediately the game becomes more involving. The fourth episode is when it starts to cook, because the fourth episode introduces
The Known Unknown
The original My City is a tile placement game. One player reveals the top card off of a deck, and everyone places the piece shown on that card. Part of what makes it such a wonderful game is knowing the tile pool. You can see all the pieces right there on the table in front of you. That means you can, to some extent, plan. You never know what order you’ll be placing those tiles in, as that’s dictated by the luck of the draw, but you do know what tiles you’ll be placing.
With dice dictating the building shapes, you can’t really do that. It’s possible to go an entire game without seeing certain building shapes. The manual includes a handy chart of all possible buildings, and gives you a bit of information about the odds of each coming up, but you can’t really plan. You can hope, but hoping isn’t planning.
Starting in the fourth episode, the game introduces elements that allow for more thinking ahead. At that point, my experience improved dramatically. R&B became just tense enough to make me think without breaking the protective barrier of pleasance. I suddenly understood what a roll & write should be. For three days, I sat each morning and played three episodes with my morning tea.
It is worth noting that, while I played all but the first episode of R&B solo, it can go up to six players. Like most roll & writes, it can in fact go up to as many players as you have sheets. There’s nothing to stop you from having the entire family reunion play together.
My City: Roll & Build is a lovely little design, a gentle puzzle of risk mitigation. Like most roll & writes, it isn’t particularly interactive, nor is it overly intentional. You make a choice and hope it pans out. Sometimes I like that. In this instance, I certainly do. I don’t think My City: Roll & Build transcends the genre, though I do think it’s exemplary within it. If you’re itching for more My City, this might tide you over until My Island. It’s nowhere near the equal of the original, but it’s not half bad either.